How to Make a Charcuterie Board

A charcuterie board is always a hit at parties – and they’re pretty easy to put together. Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to make a charcuterie board that’s not only delicious but also stunning!

a christmas charcuterie board that shows how to make a charcuterie board

Tools for Making a Charcuterie Board

A stunning charcuterie board might look like something you need to be a professional chef to put together, but all it takes is having the right tools handy. Here are the things you’ll need:

  • Plates, platters, wooden boards, or a combination of all three. Are you making one large board or several small ones? Your answer will determine what you’ll need in this category. You might use a few plates of varying sizes and shapes, or you could go with one large wooden board. You could skip the boards and platters altogether and put a large piece of parchment (several layers work best) down the middle of your table (this is a FUN way to entertain)! Add a few pieces of double-sided tape so it doesn’t shift.
  • You’ll likely need utensils such as a cheese knife, small tongs, and/or spoons. Small food picks are also an option and look pretty on a board. If you don’t have cheese-specific knives, don’t worry about it! Charcuterie is supposed to be fun and relaxing without strict rules and restrictions. 
  • Use small bowls, ramekins, or other containers to hold accoutrements (think jam, olives, etc.).
  • Don’t forget napkins and small appetizer plates for guests to load up their goodies!

How to choose a board, platter, or plate for serving

When selecting the right board, platter, or plate, it’s important to consider the food items you plan on serving and the event you are hosting. Choose a more elegant platter or board if you’re hosting an elegant gathering. On the other hand, if you are hosting a casual party, opt for a simple plate or platter. To maximize the presentation, choose wooden boards made of natural material for rustic elements and white marble for upscale gatherings. 

Choosing the right board, platter, or plate is an important step for making your charcuterie board stand out. Having said that, this is another great example of “don’t listen to rules or restrictions when it comes to charcuterie”. I almost always opt for a rustic wood board because they’re my favorite and I think they look awesome in almost any setting. 

It was mentioned above, but you could even skip a board altogether! One of my favorite ways to serve charcuterie is with a long piece of parchment paper straight down the middle of my table. It’s easy to put together and even easier to take down; it’s stunning and fun to enjoy with friends.

What to put on a Charcuterie Board

We have articles about what to put on a charcuterie board, but we’ll discuss the basics here. You can also read our “What is Charcuterie?” article for even more information. But if you just want to learn how to make a charcuterie board, you’re in the right place!

You want to remember a few things when choosing what to put on your board: flavors, textures, shapes, and colors.

It can be overwhelming the first time you make a board to combine foods that complement each other and have similar/contrasting textures and colors that make the board pop visually. One thing to keep in mind is that any combination you use will be delicious; after all, we’re talking meat and cheese here. It’s really hard to mess that up. It’s worth some effort to know you’re putting out a stunning board that looks amazing, and its flavors will knock socks off!

You’ll need cured meats such as salami, prosciutto, mortadella, and chorizo to start your board. 

Add a bit of sharp or soft cheeses like blue, Brie, and Manchego. For sweetness and flavor, include some jam, honey, and/or homemade pesto. Olives, roasted peppers, and pickles provide a briny burst of flavor. 

Finally, round out the board with crackers, cheese straws, and baguette slices – this will allow everyone to create their favorite bites. Grapes are also an easy addition that brings color and juiciness to your charcuterie masterpiece. 

There’s always the option of skipping the meats and cheeses and going with a dessert charcuterie board. These are great for Valentine’s Day or for the holidays.

Have fun experimenting with flavors – creating something special doesn’t take much!

prosciutto wrapped breadsticks

What crackers to use

Choosing the right crackers for a charcuterie board is often an afterthought, but crispy crackers are important. You’ll want at least two different types, and consider getting a gluten-free version if you’re unsure of guests’ dietary restrictions. 

Picking those that have a rustic appearance and are flecked with crunchy bits, such as some seeded cracker varieties, is ideal. For something extra special, bring in some olive oil or rosemary-flavored crackers to give it that little something extra. 

There’s no need to overcomplicate things either; traditional water crackers allow the flavors of your board to shine. Or simply add a sliced baguette!

The best meats for a charcuterie board

We’ve covered this topic extensively, so don’t miss our articles on the best meats for a charcuterie platter. Generally, though, start with cured meat like prosciutto since that’s universally loved and looks elegant on a tray. 

You might also opt for something smoked, like pastrami or smoked salmon. Even small bites of smoked beef with a dipping sauce would be delicious, especially if a dish of pickled onions is nearby.

Fresh meats like prosciutto cotto (cooked ham) or salami are fantastic to round things out. But remember that you really only need one or two meats for a small board, and a larger board only needs three or four, so mix and match these as you like.

The best cheeses for a charcuterie board

Yep, you guessed it…we have articles to help you choose the best cheeses for a charcuterie board in detail. And with good reason: the wide selection of cheeses available can be daunting when deciding which to choose! 

To keep things simple, remember the three main types: hard cheeses, semisoft & creamy, and soft-ripened cheeses. Picking one from each category gives different flavors and textures that will work with any and all of your accoutrements. For a small board, just pick one or two, and go up from there depending on the size of your gathering.

Some popular hard cheeses are manchego, aged cheddar, parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino and gouda. Semi-soft and creamy cheeses include brie, blue cheese, and taleggio. Soft-ripened cheeses like camembert or Boursin will bring out the flavors of the other ingredients on your board. 

Remember that you can skip the meats altogether and just do a cheese board if that’s your thing!

salami on parchment paper with fresh rosemary and peppercorns

The best accoutrements for a charcuterie board

Charcuterie is at its best when it’s paired with the right accouterments. Crunchy slices of sourdough and sturdy crackers are ideal for building the perfect bite around a hunk of cheese or a slice of salami, especially with a bit of whole-grain mustard. 

Sweet jam and honey add delightful counterpoints to an already delicious experience, while olives and pickles balance the overall flavor profile. Or pick up some real honeycomb for a gorgeous presentation instead of regular honey (this is something I almost always do on my boards). 

Add some freshly-toasted nuts and roasted artichokes to your platter for added decadence. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and condiments like grainy mustard add flavor options for even your most discerning guests.

In place of jam, try a sour cherry spread (I’ve seen this at World Market and have a jar in my pantry right now) or even a jar of bourbon cherries. Don’t be afraid to think slightly out of the box and add some unique items.

One elegant choice is endive leaves, which make a wonderfully crunchy vessel for bite-building in place of crackers.

Something I don’t see often enough on charcuterie boards – but it’s a personal favorite – are caperberries. They’re delicious and unique, and I almost always get a few people asking about them. 

Cherry tomatoes on the vine are also gorgeous on a board or cheese platter. I snip them in groups of 3 or 5 and place them in a few places.

Don’t miss these ideas for the perfect accoutrements if you need more inspiration.

How to calculate how much food you’ll need

When creating a charcuterie board, the amount of food you need depends on the size of your gathering. 

For two or three people as an appetizer, about two to three ounces per person for each meat and cheese is usually sufficient. An 8-ounce box of crackers, a 6-ounce package of cheese, and 6 ounces of meat will provide more than enough to snack on without leaving excess food behind, especially if you add things like olives and nuts.

Aim for 5-6 ounces of each meat and cheese per person for parties where guests will likely be snacking throughout the evening. Our gatherings usually have around 8-10 people, so I usually buy 1-2 pounds of each meat and cheese, depending on how many accoutrements I’m including.

I’ll be honest, I have a very difficult time not going overboard when it comes to buying ingredients. The way I see it, it always gets eaten (usually by me, but I often share by making another small impromptu board). Because many of the ingredients last quite some time, I don’t feel pressure to use them within the first few days, with the exception of any fresh fruit or vegetables.

How to use up leftover charcuterie ingredients

How’s that for the perfect segue? 🙂

Look, you’ll probably have some things left over. Consider that a good thing, because now you can indulge whenever you like.

The obvious answer is to simply make another board using your leftovers! Wait a few days so it feels special again, then surprise your husband, wife, or neighbor with an invite for good conversation and a glass of wine. 

You can always just use leftover cheese to make an amazing grilled cheese sandwich. Or try going open-faced with prosciutto, jam, soft cheese, and arugula. Add olives and pickles to a panini!

Or, as often happens around here, snack by the handful whenever you get the hankering for a little something (I’m looking at you, clock that reads midnight).

a large charcuterie board with lots of meats, cheeses, and accoutrements to show how to make a charcuterie board

How to make a charcuterie board – Step by Step

There are no hard and fast rules for building a DIY charcuterie board, but after making hundreds myself, I have a method that makes it simpler and quicker. 

Always begin with the larger items and work your way from there. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding where to place the items:

  • Try to keep different items of the same color in different board areas.
  • If certain items go especially well together, keep them next to one another if possible.
  • Place anything tall-ish toward the center or off the board entirely, in a tall glass if necessary.
  • Don’t place the same type of food right next to each other (for example, two kinds of crackers should have some distance between them).
  • Ignore these suggestions if you like – that’s the fun of creating something!

Step 1. Place your bowls and jars.

The dishes you’re using tend to take up the most room on the board and are the easiest to place. Typically, they should be away from the edge in different board areas.

Step 2. Slice and place the cheeses.

I usually wait to slice cheese until just before assembling, except for hard cheeses. I almost always slice brie into bite-sized wedges, for example. It only takes a minute, but it looks much prettier on the board.

It’s best to try slicing the cheeses differently so they won’t blend into one – use thin wedges for softer cheeses, and thick slices or cubes for harder ones. Layer them together as artfully as possible and remember – there is no wrong way to arrange cheese! 

Step 3. Fold and place the meats.

Fold your meats! They’ll look so much prettier and it only takes a minute. I love making salami roses, especially if there’s not much room on the board since you can fit a lot of salami into one rose (we have a tutorial on this coming soon). Or simply fold pieces in half and interlink them, forming a “river, ” fold and stack, or slightly overlapping them in a line.

Step 4. Add the crackers.

Crackers are the last “big” thing that takes up a fair amount of space, so I’ll tuck those in next. Usually, I’ll form them into a slight curve along a wedge of cheese.

Step 5. Add the fruit.

Drop your fruit into any area with an open space, and consider keeping similar colored fruit together. For example, blackberries and blueberries together on a board are gorgeous. 

Step 6. Add the cornichons, caperberries, nuts, dried fruit, and other small items.

Those little nooks and crannies? That’s where you’ll squeeze in these smaller goodies to fill the board with food completely. 

Step 7. Add flowers and fresh herbs.

This step is optional but it gives a finishing touch to your board with little effort. Fresh rosemary is good here; just tuck it into anywhere you can find. A few sprigs here and there will do the trick.

Step 8. Sweets!

This step is also completely optional, and I only do it about half the time. But I’ll add a few around the board if I have some tiny cookies, truffles, marzipan fruits, etc. A little sweet bite in the middle of all that meat and cheese is a wonderful thing.

Can you make a charcuterie board ahead of time?

You can definitely make a charcuterie board ahead of time, as long as you keep the ingredients chilled until about 30 minutes before serving. If it’s a large board, ensure it can fit in the refrigerator!

The best way to prepare your board in advance is to prep any fruits and vegetables and then place them in separate plastic bags or containers. Cheese can be sliced and kept in airtight containers, too. Keep everything in the coldest part of your refrigerator, except crackers – it will change their crispy texture.

I don’t advise making it more than twenty-four hours in advance because you want the ingredients to look and taste as fresh as possible. I usually put together a large board ninety minutes before serving, since a larger board does take a bit of time.

Things to consider before shopping for ingredients

The most important thing to think about before you leave to shop is what ingredients go best together. Let’s say I’m making a larger board with three types of cheese and meats. I know I will have two milder meats and one spicy, so I’ll pick one cheese that pairs well with each. Then I’ll think about what accoutrements would make a perfect bite for each, and I’ve got my shopping list down.

Here are a few examples of delicious bites:

  • Prosciutto, brie, grapes, honey
  • Goat cheese, fig jam, pistachios
  • Salami, cheddar, olives or caperberries
  • Fresh ricotta, sliced fresh peaches, honeycomb, basil ribbons
  • Sopressata, basil pesto, mozzarella or burrata

But here’s the thing: you can completely disregard that tip and be just fine. I’ve made so many boards where I didn’t plan anything out, and instead just picked up whichever meats and cheeses were a) on sale and/or b) looked good to me at that moment. And they turned out to be some of my best boards! Look…you’re offering delicious meats and cheeses… everyone will be thrilled.

One more quick tip on this topic before we move on: you can pre-assemble one delicious, perfectly crafted, and put-together bite and set them all on a pretty tray next to the board. Sometimes I’ll do this with the fourth example from the list above (ricotta, fresh peaches, basil ribbons, and a drizzle of honey or a little honeycomb). It’s just easier to tell my guests what goes perfectly together by making it for them – without having to tell them what goes perfectly together, y’know? Plus it looks gorgeous, so it’s a win-win.

Tips and tricks for the perfect charcuterie board

  • The biggest and most important tip is to make your board any damn way you see fit. Seriously. Don’t worry about what cheese goes with which meats and what accoutrements are perfect. You can think about these things; truth be told, I often do. But that’s because I can make my boards my way, and you can make your boards your way. And neither way will be right or wrong – because charcuterie is ALWAYS right. 🙂
  • Calculate how much you’ll need, then add a little extra, just in case.
  • When in doubt, keep it simple. A simple charcuterie board is still impressive! You can even make an easy dip for the center in lieu of one of the cheeses. Cream cheese is perfect for this, plus it saves a bit for your pocketbook.
  • Take a trip to World Market if you have one in your area. They have so many unique food items and it’s so much fun to shop there when you’re making a board—also Trader Joe’s and Lidl.
  • Don’t worry about having the perfect wooden board. Heck, use that old, scratched-up cutting board and slap a sheet of parchment over it if you have to. No one cares – they want the food.
  • Do a dry run if you’re nervous the first time. In that vein, don’t be afraid to start over halfway through or rearrange a few things once you’re finished. 
  • Don’t be afraid to let some ingredients hang over the sides. Breadsticks or cheese straws are great examples; since they’re so long, they’ll look better if you don’t try to squeeze them perfectly onto the board.
  • Have fun with it! I enjoy finding unique items while shopping almost as much as making the boards. I still remember when I spotted the dried orange slices at Trader Joe’s – the woman next to me started laughing because I was pretty openly excited and didn’t even try to hide it. But they were perfect for a board I was making the following week for my mom, who loves oranges, and I knew she’d love them. (She did)!
  • Make a list, make a list, make a list. Even if it’s just something like “3 cheese, 3 meat, 2 crackers, olives, caperberries, blueberries, blackberries, nuts, jam, honey, rosemary”. You don’t need to be specific if you’re unsure what you want, but you don’t want to get home and realize you forgot the honey. (Been there, done that).
  • Email me if you’re unsure of something and can’t find an answer anywhere. Yes, I love talking about all things charcuterie, and yes, I want to help your board be the best it can be and help out if I can! Head to my About page for all my contact details, and please don’t be shy. I love hearing from fellow enthusiasts. The best part of my day!

So there you have it, everything you need to know about how to make a charcuterie board! With these tools, tips, and tricks in your arsenal, you’ll create a stunning charcuterie masterpiece for any occasion!

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